Games

Zork – The Greatest Text Adventure of All Time

It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

Terrifying words to read only in black and green prompt on your DOS computer. It doesn’t even need audio. And that’s a good thing because black and white text is literally all this game is.

If you’ve never heard of it, never played it, you are missing out. Zork is a graphical text adventure that was written in an early programming language between 1977 – 1979. Zork was the most expansive electronic adventure released at the times.

It was split up into three games creating an original trilogy: Zork I: The Geat Underground Empire, Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz, Zork III: The Dungeon Master. Zork has been known for being one of the first examples of quality, interactive storytelling games of it’s genre. After the first installation was released it was critically acclaimed and it’s sequels were much anticipated by critics.


The original game included brilliant scenes, dynamic adventures, clever puzzles to solve and more. It didn’t matter that there weren’t any graphics. The scenes painted by the authors of the game were beyond descriptive with words alone.

Zork was a very special kind of game. This game series didn’t go ignored for it’s sense of wit, as it was quite funny at times. With it’s humor, and interactive material at a time that was novel, it was an absolute hit for the select owners of personal computers that were fit to run it at the time.

Theses games were revolutionary for a time. This series was comprised of games that were available in the home, at a time when the Atari 2600 was the only slightly common household console in the US. Home PCs were not not common in the late 70’s and were very expensive.

It was in the very brief days around when this game came out that it was available in department stores hanging from stands close to the register. Like a more expensive thing to beg mom for than a candy bar to take home.

It was the kind of game you gasped just to have in your hands, on a glorious 5.5 inch floppy disc. The seriously big guys. But the adventure contained on that set of limited discs was boundless.

Zork was one of the first ever games that emerged itself in lore. However, in the first installation it is very shallow at best. The year is 948 GUE, but that fact has absolutely no influence on the storyline or the game play in any way. But between landscapes, buildings, puzzles, and a few distinctive characters, the game paints a distinctive world of Zork.

You start out in the middle of a field. You only know this because of the text prompt telling you so. By today’s standard it’s hard to imagine this as game play, but just 20 years ago with the imagination, a clever wit, and a 12-pack of Cherry Coke you made a night of this.

You don’t die in the way you expect to from your usual video games. You type in what you want to do in a command line, and if that action doesn’t correlate with what the game expects it might just kill you. Some of the other decisions in the game are just left us to choice. You type when you want to attack something, and whether you survive or not it a matter of chance.

When you get underground to begin your adventure, you preform a ‘B and E’ on a house you find abandoned. In this houses living room is an enormous Chinese rug, underneath which is a trap door.

Fantasy had a very special place in these times. When you were to forced to imagine the spectacular surrounding demanded of you, the ones you did you were unforgettable. Zork could be likened to a text version of the movie “labyrinth.”

You’re then set in a dark place below with few items to protect you. Luckily, and we hope you don’t think we’re spoiling the plot for you, you’re likely to be eaten by a grue. Maybe even attacked by a thief. You even get a weapon similar to that in the lord of the rings, it will glow if an enemy draws near.

The point of the game is to fill a trophy case you find early in the game. In the house you brazenly break and enter into, contains what you need to fill to win the game.

The original Zork trilogy was go great even, that sequels were warranted after it. The series was finally granted visuals in 1993, with the title “Return to Zork.” It seemed too little, too late somehow, despite being such a knockout series in it’s non-visual days. The graphical 90’s sequel failed to take off, despite being popular in some circles, leaving the last game of the series to be released Zork: Grand Inquisitor in 1997.

It is disappointing the plug was pulled on the Zork series at this point. It’s innovative adventure style influenced many games that came after it that may not be clearly credited. The Legend of Zelda, for one, owes homage to the Zork series.

The game is undoubtably amazing, if you have the patience for it. It is the kind of game you make a night of with a friend or two. You’re given a puzzle, and you type in an answer, and what they give you from there is a hell of an adventure. To sit down and make a map for yourself, figure out what works and what doesn’t, over and over was frustrating and great.

Conveniently the series has been left as Abandonware, meaning it’s creators are no longer selling the game as a products and no longer expecting monetary compensation for the product. You can download that game by clicking the link below. You will probably need a DOS emulator to play this game unless you’re in the 3rd world.

Zork I – III available for zero zorkmids:

http://www.infocom-if.org/downloads/downloads.html

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